Ryan Aplin

Spring optimism: Auburn’s Nick Marshall improving his passing skills

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Nick Marshall’s always had a strong arm and was often lethal on play-action last fall, but per Jay G. Tate of AuburnSports.com, the Tigers quarterback has become a better overall passer this spring.

Of course, everyone is “improving” or “developing” during spring practice, which wraps up about four and a half months before the 2014 season kicks off. But perhaps there’s something to this, given Marshall was still a relative greenhorn running Gus Malzahn’s offense last fall. Via Tate:

It’s clear that Lashlee and coach Gus Malzahn are placing more emphasis on the passing game this spring. Marshall, whose development will determine just how far Auburn goes with that passing game, is inspiring widespread confidence.

Lashlee said Marshall now is showing the kind of next-level awareness shown by Ryan Aplin, who thrived for this same offensive brain trust at Arkansas State. As a senior in 2012, Aplin impressed Lashlee and Malzahn by suggesting adjustments and challenging ideas with structured arguments.

Granted, Arkansas State and the Sun Belt is a few rungs down the ladder from the SEC, but Alpin completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,342 yards with 24 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2012. He wasn’t the kind of threat Marshall is with his legs (104 attempts, 438 yards, 6 TDs) but there is precedent for a quarterback to put up elite-level passing numbers in Malzahn’s system.

There’s more from Malzahn & Co. in Tate’s article on Marshall’s comfort level and fit in the Tre Mason-less offense, too, so go check that out.

Predictions 101 — GoDaddy.com Bowl

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No. 25 Kent State vs. Arkansas State
Sun., Jan. 6, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Mobile, Ala. – Ladd-Peebles Stadium

Kent State’s Golden Flashes are making their first bowl-game appearance in 40 years. In a 21-18 loss against the University of Tampa at the 1972 Tangerine Bowl, Kent State featured a LB named Jack Lambert and a DB named Nick Saban.

The Tangerine Bowl is now the Florida Citrus Bowl. And the University of Tampa’s football program was disbanded after the 1974 season.

OK, enough history.

These teams feature two up-and-coming (or is it outgoing?) coaches in Kent State’s Darrell Hazell (who is expected to work the game despite being hired at Purdue) and Arkansas State’s Guz Malzahn (who will concentrate on getting Auburn back on its feet and is being replaced by interim coach/defensive coordinator John Thompson).

Kent State (11-2) has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Dri Archer (1,352 yards, 15 touchdowns) and Trayion Durham (1,248 yards, 14 touchdowns).

Arkansas State (9-3) has an outstanding QB in Ryan Aplin (3,123 yards, 23 touchdowns).

Opening point spread: Arkansas State by 4

The pick: Kent State 33, Arkansas State 30

Click HERE to get predictions for the remaining bowl games.